Steven Brill: Tailspin — America’s Fifty-Year Fall

Steven Brill, author of Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall — and Those Fighting to Reverse It, joined me to discuss what’s wrong with the United States.

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Thanks to the Cook Political Report for sponsoring this episode.

Steven Brill Bonus Q: Can Online Sites Be Trusted?

Chris: Can the legitimacy of online news sites be rated?

Steven Brill: Well, yes. And that’s what NewsGuard is doing. But not rated in the sense of, well, this one scores an 82 and this one scores a 94. Or, this one scores a 76. What we’re doing with NewsGuard is hiring actual journalists, several dozen of them, and they’re reading and reviewing the 5,000 websites that are responsible for 98% of the news and information consumed and shared online in the United States.

They’re basically giving them a green or a red. Most are going to get greens. Probably 5-10% might get reds, and those are sites that are deliberately doing fake news or deliberately doing propaganda, such as RT, the Russian propaganda site.

But all of them … When you see a green or a red in your Facebook news feed or your Google search, if you mouse over it, there’ll be a 300 or 400-word nutrition label that will explain the differences between the greens. So if you’re looking at the nutrition label for The National Review, it will explain that it’s historically a conservative news organization that approaches things from that perspective.

The nutrition label for The Nation magazine will say quite the opposite. The nutrition label for CNN will give you some sense of the history of CNN and who they are, what they do. Great stories they’ve done, controversial stories they’ve done. But the whole notion is more informing people than presuming that you can take a website and give it a numerical rating. The Baltimore Sun is X-percent better than The Boston Globe. The point is The Baltimore Sun and The Boston Globe are legitimate news organizations, and The Denver Post is a legitimate news organization, but The Denver Guardian was the phony website that was set up just before the 2016 election to pervade all kinds of fake news like the Pope had decided to endorse Trump.

So that’s the difference, The Denver Guardian versus The Denver Post. And that’s important work, because we have now done a lot of research that says when people see those reds and greens and look at the nutrition labels and they know it’s an organization of journalists who are non-partisan… Everybody’s background, whoever writes the review, they’re background is going to be included. You can see what my background is or what somebody else’s background is. It’s all going to be totally transparent. If people complain, those complaints will be available. It’s all going to be out in the open, not some black box algorithm where we can’t tell you what we’re doing and who we are and why we’re doing it.

Chris: And if a Russian bot tweets fake news at me, I’ll be able to tell that?

Steven Brill: Yes. We will have a swat team working around the clock so that … We will get alerts if anything is trending in any way on any of the social platforms. And if we haven’t rated it yet because they just went online at 4:30 in the morning, we will wrestle that to the ground by 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.